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Your Choice—The Flesh or The Spirit   
(From the book “Living In The Heavenly Places” by Steve Bray)
 

 

Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Mark 10:18) This statement was not addressing whether or not Jesus was God. The young ruler came to find out how to enter into the “good life” that he was able to see in Jesus. He therefore asked what he might do to achieve the goal. The Lord’s response reveals a fundamental truth that will need to be understood by everyone who is seeking “eternal life.” Jesus refers to God as the only source of true goodness. If man is to be truly good he will need to receive the one eternal life that has its source in God.

In the original creation God was the source of everything. Man was created to be the highest means for God to reveal His life and glory. God, who is Spirit, intended to live and make Himself known through Adam and his lineage. While Adam was still walking by the Spirit he revealed the “light of life” from heaven in everything he did. There was no darkness in him until he chose to live out from himself by “the flesh.”

Even man’s best efforts to live a moral life will always fall short of God’s glory. In other words, “the flesh profits nothing.” (John 6:63) Man simply cannot be good in God’s sight without walking in His Spirit and bearing His divine fruit. “It is the Spirit who gives life.” (v. 63)

 

“The fruit of the Spirit {which reveals God’s light of life} is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no {need for} law.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

 

Adam did not need a Bible with laws to instruct him how to live when he was filled with God’s Spirit and manifesting His heavenly fruit. He then did by nature what God’s written laws require of man. Because he lived as a vessel of the life of God, as the Second Adam did, he lived as a manifestation of the Eternal and Living Word.

God provided the law because man began living out from himself on the natural plane of life. The purpose of the law is to constrain the flesh-life that has developed because of the missing presence of God’s eternal life. It is in this sense that those who are filled with God’s Spirit and are sharing with Him in His eternal life no longer need law to teach them how to act right. In the heavenly realms everyone remains “perfect in one” as they share in the same life of holy love. (John 17:22-23)

  

“But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing {the indwelling life from heaven} teaches you concerning all things, and is true…and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him {live through the Son’s Spirit}.” (1 John 2:27)

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him… Love has been perfected among us in this…because as He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:9, 17)

 

It was Adam’s choice to live by the flesh rather than by the Spirit that resulted in a “body of sin.” Adam did not commit what we might call a “gross sin,” even though it was terrible in God’s sight. He died spiritually for simply doing something on his own. Choosing to live by self-will results in the fatal choice of turning from a Spirit-directed way of life. You cannot serve two masters. Man cannot walk by his own will in the flesh and also be led by the Spirit. He cannot have a self-originated form of life and also have a life that has its source in God—the One source of all goodness. He must make a choice.

It was this turning to a self-directed way of life, known as walking by the flesh, that separated Adam from the life of God. At that point, because he no longer had the Spirit of God filling his inner being and satisfying his soul, he naturally became earthly-minded. The experience of this void within his eternal soul led to a self-seeking and self-exalting form of life. He then began to expend his time living for self in an attempt to develop an earthly form of spiritual fulfillment.

This should help to explain the biblical doctrine of man’s depravity. It relates to this matter of being depraved of the spiritual life of God. This depravity cannot help but lead to a self-directed way of life, which is the essence of evil. It is a form of life that is in direct conflict with the life of holy love that was revealed by Jesus. All the carnal darkness now being spread throughout the world comes from living by the flesh according to the desires of this self-seeking and self-exalting nature.

 

“This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic {of the devil}. For where envy {with its source in self-exaltation} and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (Jam. 3:15-16)

 

The Son was sent into the world to save man from this fallen state. As the Second Adam, He lived according to God’s original plan for man. Everything He did had its source in the Father. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) He permitted the goodness of the eternal life within the Father to be displayed through Him by consistently choosing to walk by the Spirit. And after He had reestablished this God-ordained form of life, He became the Giver of this eternal life—the source of all goodness—to those who will choose to walk by the Holy Spirit as He did.

 

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life…” (John 10:27-28)

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life {the source of true goodness}, and this life is in His Son.”

(1 John 5:11)

This was the lesson that Jesus began teaching to the rich young ruler when he came to ask about obtaining eternal life. If he wanted to be truly “good” by sharing with God in the eternal life, he would need to follow Jesus in a Spirit-directed way of life. But this young man, like many today, chose to remain on the natural plane by walking in the flesh.

While it is common to think that his problem was his love for possessions, the real issue was the basic choice between walking by the flesh and walking by the Spirit. He preferred to live out from himself so that he could control his own life and do his own work—making it possible to have his own glory. We therefore find him going back to his old self-directed form of life. And even though he was able to develop a moral life by obeying many of God’s commands, he lost all hope of finding the Son’s eternal life when he refused to enter into Christ’s Spirit-directed way of life.

You search the Scriptures {and use them to help make yourself right}, for in them you think you have eternal life {the life of God}; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me {through the cross and into the heavenly realms} that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)

 

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die… For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:13-14)

 

W. B. Godbey, in his book Victory, speaks of how the church in general has not been directing individuals to the true salvation of the Lord. He explains how Christ came to save people from the old way of living by the flesh so we may live in true harmony with God. Today is the day when we need to be prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven where there is no disposition to live independently of God. Even though the following statements were separated from the surrounding context, having been taken from several chapters of his book, this truth reflects his overall premise. It reveals the importance of coming into harmony with the Spirit of God in this world.

So they [many of those in the church] play the children’s game, out and in, up and down. We are presuming these people have good moral and churchly characters, perhaps very active in the Sunday-school and temporal interests of the church. They are like the “rich man” in Luke 16, who was an honorable church member; they need nothing but religion…

Popular churchanity postpones nearly all the promises of God to the future state. God says, “Be holy, be perfect, be filled with the Spirit.” Popular religion says you can’t be holy till you get to heaven… We must take God’s Bible as it is and come into harmony with it, or we will never get to heaven. Have you a New Testament experience? If so, you are emptied of sin and filled with the Holy Ghost…

Remember Christ came to prepare us for heaven. In heaven there are no peace officers, as nobody there has any disposition to break the peace. Hence we must get rid of every disturber before we leave this world. Does the peace of God, “which passeth all understanding,” reign in your heart without rival?... When you get rid of Adam the First, then you are no longer under the law, consequently, you will be just as free as if there was no law… So when you get everything out of your heart which antagonizes God’s law, then you sit down with God on His throne and cooperate with Him in His administration…

 

“If the Son shall make you free you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)… If you have a clean heart; i.e., have no disposition to commit sin, you are free from the law. Glorious freedom! It is heaven on earth! Thus we become “kings and priests unto God,” and reign jointly with Christ upon His throne.

 

Living by the Spirit

 

In the plan that God originally had for man there was absolute unity and harmony in the human personality. The Spirit of God and the spirit of man were one with each other, as the Father and Son are one with each other. (John 17:22-23) The human spirit, as it remained under the dominion and direction of the Holy Spirit, was supreme in authority over the soul and the body. The soul and body were receptive. They did not control the activities of man. Thus, the Holy Spirit through the channel of the human spirit made and kept the whole being in a spiritual union with God.

But man, with his free will, is able to reject this dominion of God’s Spirit over his activities. And so when Adam and Eve chose to live by their own will, which resulted in the departure of the Holy Spirit, their spirit became separated from God. And without this union of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit there was a spiritual death. At that point there was nothing left but the soul and body to control the activities of man. Human desires then began to dominate and dictate what man did. We therefore find fallen man living by the flesh and producing the works of the flesh.

 

“And you He made alive {by giving you the Holy Spirit}, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world…fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath {separated from God because you lived by the desires of the flesh}, just as the others.” (Eph. 2:1-3)

 

We can now see what it means when the Scriptures speak of everyone being born “in sin.” Everyone without the Spirit naturally lives by their own desires. (2 Pet. 1:4) Adam passed this “body of sin” on to his lineage by separating all of mankind from the indwelling Spirit. And since only what the Spirit does through man is “good,” fallen man without the Spirit cannot help but be a sinner, regardless of how moral he chooses to be. Because he is still living by the flesh according to his own earthly desires, he cannot receive the heavenly life that comes from above. The Spirit can only manifest this heavenly life within the temple of our body after we have rejected the flesh-life and have chosen to walk in the Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25)

When the Son came into the world He “condemned sin in the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3) Even though He lived as a man with both a soul and a body, He did not live by His human desires. In contrast to Adam’s lineage, He was born with the Holy Spirit in Him. And by always yielding to the movements of the Holy Spirit, He reestablished the dominion of the human spirit over the body and the soul. Yes, He had natural desires, such as hunger and the need to protect his body. But he never permitted these desires to usurp the leading of the Spirit.

Thus, Jesus condemned sin in the flesh—the self-originated form of life that comes from self-will—by choosing to always be led by the Spirit. He revealed how God had originally intended for man to live. And having reestablished in bodily form the eternal life that Adam lost, He can now give this same overcoming life to those who will choose to walk by the Spirit as He did. (Rom. 5:17)

Once Christ had actually paid the penalty for sin by dying on the cross, He was in a position to breathe the Spirit into His followers. (John 20:21-22) This gift of the indwelling Spirit is what results in the new birth. Only through this means is it possible to overcome the flesh and the world. Those without the Spirit of God cannot help but live on the natural plane. Although they can come under the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, and be moved to straighten out their lives in a certain fashion, they still cannot relate to the supernatural life that comes down from above.

We need to distinguish between the Spirit being “with man” and being “in man.” In reality, the Spirit of God is in everyone, “since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25) Everyone would dry up and return to dust if it was not for God’s Spirit. But Jesus spoke of the Spirit only being “with” His first disciples prior to His death and resurrection. They were able to respond to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit under law. And they conformed fairly well. But, as they revealed over and over again, they were still dominated by their old self-seeking and self-exalting flesh-life. They were still under the influence of the world and walking as mere men on the natural plane.

This is why Jesus said it would be better for everyone when He went away. Even if the Son of God would have remained with everyone on the natural plane, His outward presence could not help anyone when it comes to revealing the eternal “light of life.” It was not until He went away and became a “life-giving spirit” in the heavenly realms that He could truly become the source of this divine life “within” His disciples. (1 Cor. 15:45)

We need to know this indwelling life before we can truly teach others about the true salvation of the Lord. Paul said, “It pleased God…to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” (Gal. 1:15-16)

Much of Christianity today, because it is on the natural plane, places a great deal of emphasis on the Spirit of the Lord coming into church services to touch the emotions of the people. But this form of help is similar to what Jesus provided when He was still walking with His disciples in the natural realm. This kind of “presence” provides very little help in the long run. It is the reason why the spiritual life drains out of people so quickly after they leave the church building. Even if Christ was to manifest Himself outwardly, as He did to Paul on the road to Damascus, it would not make His heavenly life of holy love known within the heart.

The earnest seeker of the life of God needs to realize there are various stages in God’s work of salvation. For example, Jesus said that His true followers were reconciled to God even before He breathed the Spirit into them on the day of His resurrection. He said they were already “clean” in God’s sight. (John 13:10) Everyone who is following the Lord and is fully persuaded that He is the One—the Seed—who has come to establish His Kingdom-life within their heart can know they are in a justified state. (John 6:66-69; Rom. 4:20-22) But they must not stop at these first steps in His work of saving their soul.

It will be helpful to look at how the Spirit works in the lives of people in several different ways. As long as they are responding to His current level of work, where they are walking in all revealed light, they can depend on Christ’s shed blood to cover any error in their life. But we must remember that only those who are being led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. (Rom. 8:14)

The Spirit has always been working on the conscience of people all over the world, telling them to say “no” to ungodliness. (Titus 2:11-12) We therefore find people naturally developing moral religious systems and governments to constrain sin. The Spirit is working on their conscience and telling them to say “no” to everything that is a sin against love. But that does not imply they are sharing with Christ in His life of holy love.

When a believer chooses to become a Spirit-led follower of Jesus he receives the gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit quickens the believer’s spirit at this new birth. There is then a movement of the Spirit within the heart providing an inward motivation to become like God in His nature of holy love. The Spirit then leads these earnest souls into the wilderness testing period where He begins to work with the individual’s spirit (through their yielded “will”) to gain complete dominion over the fleshly desires of the body and the soul. A real war takes place when the believer begins to fight this “good fight of faith.” Those who go on to fully establish Zion within the heart, where there is a complete dominion over the desires of the flesh and the mind, can expect to go through some difficult battles with the powers of darkness.

 

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh {in dying to the old self-originated form of life} has ceased from sin {he has stopped living for his own will}, that he no longer should live for the lusts of men {fleshly human desires}, but for the will of God.” (1 Pet. 4:1-2)

"But now having been set free from sin {self-will}, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life." (Rom. 7:22)
 

Every enemy that prevents Christ from establishing His undivided rule within the heart must be overcome. And this war with the old flesh-life will go on until either the individual turns away from this Spirit-directed way of life or until the Spirit has gained complete dominion so that every moment is under His control and power. Given the opportunity, the Lord will gain a complete victory.

{He came} “To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies {everything that keeps us from walking by His Spirit alone}, might serve Him without fear {of the old carnal nature}, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74-75)



 
 

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